A leading South African practice with a track record in mining arbitration
|People in Who's Who Legal||1|
|Pending cases as counsel||11|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$120 million|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||1 (0 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||1|
Werksmans’ international arbitration practice first grew shoots in the 1970s under the leadership of Cyril Jaffe. Des Williams QC worked closely with Jaffe (who died in 2014) and has continued to invest resources in developing the arbitration practice. A highly respected figure in the arbitration bar, Williams is the sole South African member of the ICC Court (until 2018) and a director of the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa.
After Williams became chairman of the firm in 2005, David Hertz took over as head of litigation and dispute resolution, and has now succeeded him as chairman. Other partners include mining arbitration specialist Chris Stevens and Roger Wakefield, director of litigation and disputes resolution.
The firm has played a lead role in many of the country’s highest-profile arbitrations.
It has offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tyger Valley and Stellenbosch. The firm is also a co-founding member of the Lex Africa legal network, which covers 54 countries.
Who uses it?
Werksmans has represented the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s Aberdeen International, banking software vendor Temenos, French oil and gas company Heurtey Petrochem, US financial services firm Morgan Stanley, and Australian engineering company WorleyParsons.
Glencore subsidiaries Katanga Mining and Kamoto Copper used the firm for several disputes over a project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one matter, the client is pitched against China’s Zhongji. Another Glencore unit in Namibia has instructed it for a dispute with India’s Vedanta group.
Williams successfully represented South African wireless provider Telkom in a long-running breach of contract dispute with US-based Telcordia. The case began with an ICC claim in 2001, before spilling out to the local courts. The matter was finally settled in 2010, with Telkom paying about half of what the other side originally claimed.
The firm represented South African Breweries (now part of AB InBev) in a post-M&A dispute that lasted 18 years until a successful settlement in 2017.
In 2017, the firm obtained a victory for Glencore in an arbitration against Chint Electric in a construction dispute, obtaining an award which is now in enforcement proceedings in China. The firm also achieved a win for Glencore in an arbitration against Chinese firm Northern Heavy Industries. Award proceedings are in progress.
Williams is acting for South African retailer Edcon Limited in an arbitration with ABSA Bank – now part of the Barclays Africa Group – concerning the acquisition of Edcon’s store card accounts, and the operation and management of its store card programme.
He also represents South Africa’s Encha Group in an arbitration with SacOil Holdings related to the acquisition of oil exploration and production rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Evert Scholtz, managing director of manufacturing company Afridizi Bottling, says the firm seized command of his arbitration from the first day, showing commitment and preparation. “They knew what they were aiming for and didn’t waste time. They have proven their mettle to me over and over,” he says.
An in-house counsel at a well-known mining company used the firm for two major ICC arbitrations in Johannesburg. “The case was hugely intensive and there were hundreds and thousands of documents that had to be digested.” He praises director Jennifer Smits. “She ran the arbitrations very well and was very well organised.”